Mer­cury poi­son­ing

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

THE THER­MAL power sec­tor con­trib­utes 87 per cent of to­tal mer­cury emis­sions in the coun­try. Mer­cury emit­ted by power plants en­ters wa­ter bod­ies through ash as well as through pre­cip­i­ta­tion from the at­mos­phere and can en­ter the hu­man body if con­tam­i­nated fish is con­sumed. CSE's Pol­lu­tion Mon­i­tor­ing Lab­o­ra­tory (PML) con­ducted a study in 2012 to in­ves­ti­gate mer­cury pol­lu­tion in Sin­grauli-Sonbhadra re­gion where sev­eral coal­based power plants and coal mines are lo­cated. The study re­vealed alarm­ing lev­els of mer­cury in drink­ing wa­ter, fish and hu­man blood and tis­sue—ev­i­dence of mer­cury poi­son­ing in lo­cal pop­u­la­tion was wide­spread.

Dur­ing 2013-14, CSE's PML col­lected and an­a­lysed coal and ash sam­ples from coal mines and ther­mal power plants from across the coun­try. The study found, on an av­er­age, very high (0.61 mg/kg) mer­cury in do­mes­tic coal. In­dia's coal-based power plants are es­ti­mated to be emit­ting around 440 g/GWh of mer­cury into air and wa­ter. In­dia has no reg­u­la­tions to con­trol mer­cury. But it may now be un­der pres­sure to in­tro­duce norms as In­dia be­came a sig­na­tory to the Mi­na­mata Con­ven­tion, a UN agree­ment, in Septem­ber 2014. China re­cently stip­u­lated mer­cury emis­sion norms of 104 g/ GWh. In­dian plants will need to cut mer­cury emis­sion by 75 per cent to meet the Chi­nese stan­dards. How­ever, the real chal­lenge is to ef­fec­tively en­force them. CSE es­ti­mates to­tal mer­cury emis­sion may grow to nearly 700 tonnes per an­num by 2021-22, if left unchecked.

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